Student carries on legacy with game bird scholarship

By Dana Kobilinsky

Andrew Olsen is studying how Oregon sage grouse are impacted by the removal of western juniper from their range. ©Howard Patterson

Nominations for the 2018 Donald H. Rusch Memorial Game Bird Research Scholarship will be accepted through May 1. The annual scholarship is open to any graduate student studying upland birds or waterfowl biology or management. Click on the link above to visit the Rusch Memorial Scholarship webpage, or visit our awards page to learn more about all TWS awards.

Andrew Olsen remembers being a 6-year-old boy tagging along with his father, a wildlife biologist and hunter, as he hunted dusky grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) in Montana.

He can recall harvesting his first ringed-neck pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) when he was about 12.

His early fascination with game birds led Olsen, now a PhD student at Oregon State University, to study greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). His work earned him the Donald H. Rusch Memorial Game Bird Scholarship at the recent annual TWS Annual Conference in Albuquerque.

Andrew Olsen displays game birds that he harvested. His interest in hunting game birds with his father since he was a child led to his interest in studying game birds. ©Abby Huck

“I was really excited,” Olsen said. “I always feel honored to get any scholarship, and I was very happy and familiar with the legacy of the gentleman the scholarship was named after. I appreciate the hunting heritage and game bird conservation so it fit me well, and I was very pleased to get it.”

The scholarship is named after Don Rusch, an avid hunter and angler with a keen interest in game bird biology and conservation, who died unexpectedly in 1999. The award is presented to graduate students studying upland game bird or waterfowl biology and management.

Olsen is currently studying how Oregon sage grouse are impacted by the removal of western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) from their range. “There’s encroachment into their habitat, and that’s a key threat to sage grouse in the Great Basin,” he said.

So far, around 30,000 acres have been cut at his study site since 2012.

Removing encroaching conifers such as western juniper from sage grouse habitat can also benefit other species such as songbirds and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), Olsen said, showing that scholarships like this one that target game bird research can also benefit other species.

“Game birds are an important suite of animals,” he said. “They present some interesting conservation challenges. Some are umbrella species. The things we do for sage-grouse are going to benefit other species.”

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

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